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(1st century BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Image of Vitruvius (right), from 1684, who is presenting to Augustus De Architectura.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

Marcus Vitruvius was born as Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. He was a Roman architect and war engineer living in the 1st century BCE. He was a designer of war machines during the reign of Julius Caesar and Octavian Augustus. The creator of the so-called Vitruvian man – an image of a naked man inscribed in a circle and square, symbolizing movement (Leonardo da Vinci later disseminated his own image).

Vitruvius became famous as the author of the treatise “On the architecture of books ten” (De Architectura), which was created between 20 BCE and 10 BCE. It was dedicated to Emperor Augustus and was a compilation of Greek architecture textbooks. Today, this work is an invaluable source of knowledge about the architecture and construction art of ancient Greeks and Romans. Vitruvius describes in detail both the Greek classical orders and their Roman varieties. The descriptions were supplemented with relevant illustrations – the original drawings were not preserved. The rules applied by the Romans when planning cities and erecting buildings were also discussed extensively. In the modern era, many famous authors made illustrations for this work, trying to recreate lost drawings.

He was certainly in the service of Gaius Julius Caesar, who died, as is known, in 44 BCE. Vitruvius may have been young at the time, but it is hard to imagine that he could attract the attention of the commander-in-chief and the first person in Rome before the age of 30. According to this, he was born around 80-70 BCE.

Vitruvius did not come from a great family, but he received a thorough education, which he highly valued and, it seems, good education, probably in the spirit of republican ideals. Undoubtedly, he spoke Greek freely, because his work is largely a compilation of Greek textbooks, which he does not hide. On the contrary, Vitruvius enumerates the exact authors he used so as not to be accused of plagiarism.

Plan of the Greek house according to Vitruvius.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

As befits a Roman citizen, Vitruvius was a very devout follower of the state religion. He tried to adapt some of the rules of religious architecture to her requirements. He advises, therefore, to build temples shaped according to the nature of the deity, for example, not covered (hypetral) for Heaven and planetary deities; Doric, and thus raw in form, for the gods of war (including Minerva inclusive), and Ionic and Corinthian, richly decorated, for goddesses, nymphs and for Father Liber, or effeminate Dionysus.

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci.
The image of a naked man inscribed in a circle and square, symbolizing movement, according to Vitruvius’ records.

Vitruvius recommends healing temples of healing deities in areas with a healthy climate, rich in medicinal springs – which is understandable. But he immediately adds that in this way Aesculapius and the goddess Salus will gain more fame. It seems that strengthening the authority of the gods was even more important to him than the health of patients.
Medicine was Vitruvius’ true passion. He mentions medicine among the nine disciplines that, in his opinion, the architect should master.

Vitruvius lived in an extremely difficult period, especially his youth passed during civil wars and violent political changes. From this perspective, he could honestly worship Augustus, who led to peace and economic stability. Let us add that the intensive construction activities inspired and developed by the emperor particularly favored architects. It was in this atmosphere that the idea of ​​writing a Latin textbook for them, well adapted to Roman needs, could easily have been born.

At the time of writing, the author was already a young man who would probably find it difficult to practice his proper profession. Therefore, he had to highly value the kind of retirement granted to him by Augustus. He received it first as a “remuneration for services” in the construction and maintenance of war machines, and then – under the protection of Octavia, the emperor’s sister – in the form, he writes, of further remuneration. These were probably considerable sums, since Vitruvius believed that “for the rest of his life he does not have to be afraid of scarcity” and he can easily write his book.

The retirement undoubtedly positively influenced the warmth of the old man’s feelings for Augustus, and maybe he was also afraid of its withdrawal if he fell out of favor. Regardless of the objective and subjective reasons of the gratitude expressed strongly, it is regrettable that the author paid a little exaggeration in his homage. He didn’t have to show his admiration for the mighty protector in the most sophisticated way in every book.


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